Recently, a friend of mine reached out to me and admitted that she is feeling stuck and frustrated in her physical suffering, and trust me, the poor girl is suffering physically in a huge way! I just wanted to reach through my phone and hug her and tell her that it’s ok to feel this way. It’s ok to feel grief and it’s ok to feel frustration and the guilt that follows these emotions is not from God, it’s manmade. How do I know? Well, let me tell ya!
When I was first diagnosed (stage 4 melanoma now, but was stage 3 at the time), I cried a lot. And then I saw this crying as weakness in my faith. And then I felt guilty. I thought crying meant that I wasn’t trusting God enough and then I was laying a massive dose of guilt on myself. What good did this do? Yeah, none. It was a vicious cycle that left me feeling like a bad Christian and not at all like those brave, amazing cancer warriors that we hear so much about. I felt like I was bad at having cancer. Like, “come on, stupid idiot! You can’t do anything right! You can’t even have cancer right!!” Is that a healthy way to think? No, of course not, but when you are thrown something like this, cancer or otherwise, that puts the brakes on your life and makes you reevaluate everything you thought you knew, it takes an adjustment period.
Allow yourself that adjustment period. Please. You deserve it. You deserve clarity, and restored faith, and hope, and for truth to shine through. But it doesn’t often come in a neat little package. For me, it was a whole lot of little realizations through constant seeking and wrestling with God that helped build my faith and break down the wall between what I felt was true and what was actually true.
I know my barometer of truth isn’t exactly the same as some other people’s, but for me it comes down to: what does the Bible say? And this is where I get excited! The Bible is full of people who couldn’t understand God’s plan and, well, got a little whiny. Amiright?? Job? David? Hello! These were men who, although not perfect of course, sought after God’s own heart and tried to live as righteous men. And they were sooooo whiny. Like, seriously. Reading through the Psalms that David wrote? Sometimes even I roll my eyes at how much he sounds like a whiny little baby. And don’t even get me started on Job! But God doesn’t fault them for this. I believe that God knows how frustrating it is for us at times to not be able to discern His plan in a given situation. But instead of revealing the plan, He allows us to wrestle with ourselves and with Him and allows us to make this an experience that means something, allows us to use this to produce fruit and growth in Him, rather than it being just a series of unfortunate events.
Here’s how I know I’m right. You ready?
Read Judges 11.
Confession time: Eric and I are always reading through the whole Bible over and over. Ever since getting married, we have read two chapters every night together before bed. This is what we do together and has no bearing on what we might choose to do by ourselves throughout the day. Ok, so anyway, usually when we are in the Old Testament, I’m just kind of checking it off the list of things I need to do before I get to go to bed. I know how awful that sounds and I’m ok with it. The Old Testament is so, so important, I’m not negating that, but it’s a lot of names, a lot of history, and a lot of laws that we are no longer bound under, and so it tends to lose me a little. So one night, Eric and I are reading in Judges and I’m just trying to get through so I can go to sleep and we read a part in Judges 11 that changed my life and how I look at this cancer.
The story is of Jephthah, but more importantly, Jephthah’s daughter. We don’t even know the poor girl’s name, but her story has stuck with me throughout this whole experience (almost a year now!!) and has been an awesome encouragement to me. So what does the Bible say about Jephthah’s daughter?
Jephthah and the Israelites were at war with the Ammonites, and Jephthah made a vow to The Lord that he would sacrifice to God the first thing that came to greet him from his property if The Lord would grant him victory over his enemies. God does just that and as Jephthah returned home expecting some form of livestock to greet him on his property, the first thing that came out to him was his beloved daughter, his only child. He tore his robes (a sign of distress) and explained to her the promise that he had made to God.
Ok, stay with me, this is not a story about questionable parenting, as it might seem at this point. The point is how this young girl, most likely a young teenager, responds to hearing that her father has promised to sacrifice her. ‘ “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.’
If you’re still confused as to why this story has touched me so deeply, I guess I look at myself a bit like Jephthah’s daughter. I’m telling God every chance up until my diagnosis that my life is not my own and that I want to bend to His will, that what He wants for me is better than what I could plan for myself, and blah blah blah all of these Christian cliches . Then, when push comes to shove and things seem bad and I don’t understand, I’m getting mad at Him.
I love how Jephthah’s daughter says, essentially, “This sucks, but we’re gonna do it.” And what does she do? She goes out into the wilderness and grieves. Do we even understand how amazing that is? This girl knew she would never marry and so she was grieving that loss. If you’ve been through something like living with a terminal illness, you can totally understand the feeling of grieving for something you never had. I grieve all the time for my kids and my husband and the time that I feel like is getting stolen from me. I feel a sense of loss knowing that the most likely scenario is that I will not get to see my children grow up. I grieve the fact that they will not have a “normal” childhood. I grieve the fact that I can’t give them all of the time and energy that I want to because of how I’m feeling or whatever. It’s really a feeling of grief. And this girl understands. And she lets herself grieve her loss of never marrying. And she is still a sacrifice that is pleasing to God! That’s the coolest part. We can be sad about our circumstances, we can be honest with where we are at, and we can still live a life that is pleasing to God. We don’t need to fake bravery, or understanding, or anything.
I found out very early in this that when I was fake happy and just trying to be inspirational, that I was hurting myself by being fake and making others feel guilty because they weren’t as “strong” as me. Well, I’m way past being fake. I have good days and bad days and I’ve learned to let myself feel what I need to so that I can work through how God wants to use me at any given moment.
God is faithful, and He is good!! I will never, ever stop proclaiming this. Let yourself feel what you need to and deal with the things that you’re grieving over, seriously, God doesn’t mind. And praise The Lord that He sent Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice so that we don’t need to make physical sacrifices anymore! Cuz, sorry, but that would be really weird.
Hang in there guys! You aren’t alone 🙂